04 June 2005

Stepping out

Where would we be today if our ancestors, and in turn their ancestors, did not survive the Ice Ages or their predators? In fact, not only did they survive, they actually prospered, bringing in cultural developments over thousands of years.

We may have evolved from primates and other apes, but the most fascinating differentiating aspect of the human race has been our ability to adapt to environmental changes and move on to build civilisations. Obviously, this didn’t happen overnight, but took tens of thousands of years. You can find out more about this part of our history by reading a charming book, “After The Ice: A Global Human History, 20000-5000 BC,” by Professor Steven Mithen of The University of Reading.

In “After The Ice”, Prof Mithen takes us through 15,000 years of human history in a magical time-travel. He creates a time-traveller, John Lubbock, who goes around the globe, observing, exploring and recording human history. Prof Mithen blends in Lubbock’s explorations with his own explanations based on archaeological, anthropological and scientific facts… giving us an engaging account of how humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to farmers to domesticators of animals to village builders… resulting in urban civilisations of today.

It’s a make-believe world, and “After The Ice” almost reads like a novel, but Prof Mithen’s supporting facts make this a compelling work of non-fiction. You can read a review of this book on American Scientist Online. Or better still, if you’re curious, why not read an account of our ancestors’ migration from Africa in Steven Mithen’s own words in “Stepping Out” (PDF version)?

No comments: